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Topic 4, Lesson 7
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Influencing and Obtaining Buy-In

Dan Wells October 17, 2023
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CFO research shows that one of the most challenging aspects of the board level role relates to obtaining people’s buy-in.  Humans are naturally resistant to change and may also feel threatened by initiatives that alter or reduce their responsibilities towards a certain process.

CFOs are increasingly acting as a catalyst for change and driving change initiatives across your organization, therefore it is essential that you adopt an appropriate strategy towards obtaining people’s buy-in at board level.

Influencing with EQ

People resist change for a number of reasons including:

  • Anxiety about the unknown;
  • Fear that the change will reduce their status or importance;
  • Concern that it may increase their future workload;
  • Worry about having to learn new things;
  • Nervousness about being unable to deliver the new requirements; and
  • Memories of previous bad experiences of change initiatives.

These emotions may be triggered by a lack of sufficient information, scepticism, suspicion, frustrations, new expectations, shifting priorities, a need for structure and certainty, different reporting relationships, feeling threatened and being comfortable with the status quo.  In addition, many people simply do not like the hassle of change and believe that it is easier to carry on with things using their current approach.

People’s emotions during a change initiative and can be categorized into the following:

  1. Shock and Denial;
  2. Anger and Fear;
  3. Acceptance; and
  4. Commitment.

Note that somebody who appears to accept a change without getting actively involved or asking any questions is more likely to be denying it.

Regardless of how good your strategy may be for obtaining buy-in, it is unlikely to be successful if you cannot connect with people’s emotions.  People are more likely to change if you can speak to their emotions and influence their feelings, as opposed to influencing their thinking with facts and figures.  This is one example of why EQ skills have become so essential for a modern-day CFO.

Influencing people by using your EQ (Emotional Quotient) will allow you to identify different feelings, use emotional information to guide behaviours and adjust your emotions for certain situations to achieve your objectives.  However, a recent GrowCFO poll suggests that only 31% of modern-day CFOs possess high levels of EQ.

The following tips will help you to influence and inspire your colleagues to adopt your vision for change:

  1. Create conversations: Engage in deep meaningful dialogue with people, rather than constantly giving speeches.  Communicate in the same way that you would with a family member or friend, as opposed to using corporate terms.  Try to be genuine and relevant, giving just enough information for people to digest, whilst still communicating the required facts.  Speak clearly, briefly and in a logical manner so that people can easily understand your message.
  2. Address emotions: Consider each individual person’s role, situation and personality type to anticipate how they may feel about the change.  Open up to people emotionally to show them that you understand their situation and how they feel.  Think about how you can address their concerns to help generate trust and to show them that you care.
  3. Repeat your message: Research suggests that the majority of sceptical people need to hear information up to five times prior to believing the message.  This creates a natural disconnect between what leaders believe to be regular communication versus the perception of your employees.  Repeat messages in a consistent manner to help get your messages across to less-receptive people who are grappling with emotions.
  4. Vary communications: Use a wide medium of communications to connect with people.  This will have a bigger impact than sending multiple communications in the same manner and will help to connect with people who prefer to communicate in different ways.  For example, one-to-one discussions, meetings, road shows, help desks, demonstrations, videos, podcasts, webinars, emails, visuals, posters, intranet articles and focus groups.
  5. Tell stories: People are more likely to remember an inspiring story than facts and figures.  Tell uplifting stories to bring your vision to life and demonstrate its benefits.
  6. Create an elevator pitch: Generate a strong elevator pitch lasting around 1-2 minutes to communicate the change across different circumstances.
  7. Walk the talk: Create a powerful representation towards the benefits of implementing the change by demonstrating this within your own behaviour.  This will help to bring your vision to life.
  8. Deal with the sabotagers: Regardless of how well you manage change, there will often be at least one person who creates negativity and attempts to undermine your initiatives.  You will need a plan to deal with such individuals, either by influencing their behaviours or by shutting them out of your change activities.


It can be very challenging to obtain people’s buy-in for change given that most humans are inherently resistant to change.  Modern-day CFOs require a robust strategy, combined with strong levels EQ, to build support for your change initiatives and to help deliver a successful outcome.